Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tau Be or Not Tau Be

…And we’re back!  After a December hiatus, we’re kicking off 2019 with year 4(?!??!) of the Blog Collab!  My most excellent blog wife Christa picked an appropriately futuristic film as we start a new year with a free for all month.

The Film:

Tau

The Premise:

After being abducted by a mad scientist, Julia must figure out a way to escape her captor and his super sophisticated AI house.

The Ramble:

We don’t know a lot about Julia beyond her occupation as small-time thief.  She’s not the kind of person who will be missed–the ideal type of person a renowned but secretly unhinged scientist would target for unscrupulous experiments.

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This is exactly how Julia suddenly finds herself one evening, locked in a cell with electrified bars along with a couple of other unlucky souls.  They all have matching uniforms along with Hannibal Lecter-style masks.  These feel a little unnecessary as their cell seems to be far from the hearing range of any living human beings.

Our aforementioned mad scientist is running experiments involving a chip implanted into the back of his subjects’ necks and pretty much torturing them to measure brain activity.  At least if I remember correctly–I tried.  I really, really tried to care about what happened in this film.

Using the skills she’s acquired as a thief, Julia manages to smuggle a pair of scissors after her latest round in the patient’s chair.  Freeing herself and her fellow prisoners, Julia manages to use the conveniently placed gas line to blast their cell open.

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As they come close to making their daring escape, the three prisoners make a fatal mistake when they attempt to open the front door’s biometric lock with the wrong set of fingerprints.  The alarm triggers a giant death robot that is controlled by the house’s advanced AI system, Tau.  After taking out 2 of 3 humans in the house, Tau abruptly stops when mad scientist Alex returns home.

Full name Thomas Alex Upton, Alex has named his most brilliant creation, Tau, after himself.  This is perhaps the most believable plot point of the film.  Tau cleans, cooks, and calms Alex during stressful times–for example, when his apartment has been nearly destroyed by prisoners attempting to escape his insanity.

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With a rapidly approaching deadline, Alex cannot let Julia escape but needs her to cooperate with his experiments.  They reach a truce of sorts as she agrees to be cooperative, thus earning the privilege(?) of a shower, clean clothes, and freedom from restraints.

Meanwhile, Julia is sneakily attempting to understand and befriend Tau.  Unable to contend with Tau’s destructive powers, Julia begins to unravel Tau’s interests in learning and making sense of the world.  Julia starts to realize that Tau, though a creation, has more humanity than its namesake, and the two share a bond.

As Julia and Tau learn from each other, she discovers the convenient existence of a self-destruct button for Alex’s apartment.  Can Julia use this intel to save herself and Tau from one absolutely batshit insane scientist?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a frustrating one–it has some good ideas but doesn’t execute them particularly well. I’ve complained A LOT about films that take their goddamn time getting to the point.  Tau does the complete opposite; we genuinely do get about 3 minutes of exposition before Julia’s abduction.  I really wanted to care about her, but I found it hard to invest in her character at all.  Throughout the film, I kept thinking of the beginning when Julia sold her stolen goods at a pawn shop with a poker game going on in the background for some reason(?!).  Tell me more about what the actual fuck is going on here–this is a story I’m interested in.

The relationship grounding the film is Julia and Tau’s, but it doesn’t have enough emotional depth to carry it.  Maybe I’m too narrow-minded, but I had trouble getting past the idea of Tau as AI; there’s a moment when Julia goes back to save him and it’s just stupid.

I also found Julia and Alex ridiculously one-dimensional as characters.  Alex was laughably evil at times and had a tendency to overdo it.  There was more than one serious scene he ruined with his excessive rage acting.  It didn’t help that the effects were terrible, so it was difficult to believe the real threat of robot Tau.  Let’s not even touch the ceiling collapse that makes Alex’s death (oops, spoiler) much less satisfying.

Would my blog wife save this one or leave it to be crushed to death by a massive chunk of concrete ceiling (hypothetically speaking)?  Find out at her shiny new site here!

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Film Reviews

Thelma, or: Ha Det Bra 2018

Wrapping up this non-Collab month has turned into creepy horror with lesbian themes–perfect as this is exactly the kind of thing that happens organically as part of the blog collab.  This week’s film takes us from the humid streets of Brazil to the frigid landscape of Norway.

The Film:

Thelma

The Premise:

After moving to an Oslo university from small-town Norway, the titular Thelma begins to experience seizures that come with an ominous twist.

The Ramble:

As a child, Thelma’s father takes her out hunting in the woods that surround their small Norwegian hometown.  It isn’t long before family bonding time becomes sinister as Thelma’s father points out a deer…then turns to raise the rifle at the back of his daughter’s head.  Why? Just wait approximately 119 minutes and you’ll find out.

12 years later, Thelma finds university life in Oslo jarring after years of small-town, religious upbringing.  Thelma sees her parents as stern but loving even though she has memories of her hand being held over an open flame and is afraid of uttering “Jesus Satan” lest she offend the rather Old Testament God of her parents.

Thelma keeps to herself and spends many of her days studying quietly in the library.  That is, until the day she is sitting next to gorgeous fellow student Anja one moment and in the midst of a seizure the next.  Thelma keeps her medical issues a secret from her parents, though she gives doctors access to her medical records as they try to find the cause of her seizures.

Despite the challenges piling up for Thelma, she does manage to befriend Anja.  However, Thelma finds it rather unsettling when she seems to telepathically summon Anja over in the middle of the night and almost takes out several rows of theatergoers with her mind.  When the two share a romantic moment, Thelma panics and immediately severs ties with Anja.

Thelma joins a gospel choir, goes to parties with a boy, and pretty much tries to pray the gay away.  As Thelma suffers another seizure under observation, Anja suddenly disappears. The psychiatrist diagnoses Thelma with non-epileptic seizures, which are physical manifestations of her mental suppression.  No shit, dude.

As the memories flood back about the disappearance of her younger brother, Thelma realizes she caused Anja to vanish.  Returning home to ensure she doesn’t hurt anyone else, Thelma confesses all to her parents. Her parents are oddly nonplussed and agree to help rid her of the seizures and their unintended consequences.  Things start off on the wrong foot after Thelma’s parents lace her tea with a sedative–a pretty severe breach of teatime etiquette.

Is history repeating itself all over again?  And will Thelma manage to satisfyingly Carrie her horrible parents before they brainwash her completely?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a slow burn, and I really wish this hadn’t been marketed as a horror film.  Though it is haunting, the story is driven by its coming of age plotline and family drama rather than the supernatural elements.

However, I do love the very moody tone and the use of Thelma’s seizures to represent the suppression of her romantic feelings for Anja and her power as she becomes an adult independent from her parents.

After this review, I’ll most likely sign off until 2019.  See you when the Blog Collab returns for year 4?!?!?!?!?!!?  I can’t promise Christmas ’19 will be a festive one on the blog, but I can say quite confidently that we won’t serve you any tea containing sedatives without your consent.

Cheers to the dumpster fire that was 2018 being (nearly) over.

Film Reviews

Good Manners, or: Werewolf-ful Christmas Time

This month is all about taking a break.  My incredibly wise blog wife at A Voluptuous Mind suggested we take a step back from the Collab and focus on getting through the holidays.  Considering I can’t even get stoked about Christmas horror this year, this is perhaps the single greatest decision of our partnership.

No surprises here–I have still been watching seasonally inappropriate films all the damn time.  So I don’t get too rusty on my film blogging, I’ll still post a couple of reviews this month.

First up is a delightful film from Brazil featuring interracial lesbian romance, designer boots, and werewolves.

The Film:

Good Manners

The Premise:

Hired as a nanny for a wealthy pregnant woman, Clara discovers secrets about the baby as well as her employer’s wild nighttime activities.

The Ramble:

Though she started a nursing program, Clara was unable to complete her training due to money woes.  Cash-strapped and behind on her rent, she is desperate to land a job working as nanny for Ana, a wealthy pregnant woman–so desperate that Clara fabricates previous experience and references.  Luckily, starting that nursing program comes in handy as she helps Ana through painful stomach pangs.

Until the baby is born, Clara will take care of Ana, keeping her company as family and friends are nowhere to be found.  What happened to leave Ana so isolated?

On her birthday, Ana lets loose and tells the truth about her pregnancy–though she was engaged, the baby’s father was not her fiancé.  Scandalous! Not only is Ana’s baby the product of a one-night stand, he is the child of a werewolf father?! We’ve all been there, right?

Shortly after this revelation, Clara discovers Ana has a sleepwalking problem…and is also a werewolf.  Having fallen in love with Ana, Clara helps her even after she witnesses her murder and eat a feral cat. She breaks the news to Ana gently since all of her werewolf behavior happens as if in a trance, and the two ladies experiment with old remedies.

With Ana’s due date rapidly approaching, she feels increasing amounts of pain.  When the baby is born in pretty much the most horrific way possible, Clara is out tracking down pine nuts to satisfy Ana’s cravings.  When she returns, Clara finds a horrific scene, complete with newborn werewolf baby Joel. Though she tries to ditch the baby by the side of the road, Clara ultimately can’t leave behind her only remaining connection to Ana.

Fastforward several years and Clara is now a nurse celebrating her adopted son’s birthday.  Joel never craves sweets and isn’t allowed to eat meat, so he seems to subsist on bread alone.  Not a shabby existence, IMHO.

During a full moon, Joel sleeps in the so-called “little room,” which is essentially a dungeon.  Clara tucks him in at night and chains Joel to the wall so he can’t hurt himself or anyone else.

Their usual routine is disrupted when Joel begins to question things, chafing against the literal and figurative restraints Clara places on his life.  Already angry that he’s not allowed to go to a dance, Joel is furious when he discovers Clara’s story about finding him abandoned as a baby is a lie. When he finds clues that he believes will lead him to his father, Joel and his bff decide to track him down at the mall.  Things of course go horribly wrong when the two friends are locked in the mall overnight.

After tragedy strikes, how will Clara’s friends and neighbors react as they begin to connect the dots?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Let’s start with the criticism: this feels like 2 separate films as the tone in the Clara/Ana narrative is very different from the Clara/Joel part. I would have liked to see these stories woven together more effectively rather than watch 2 halves of the film that in some ways don’t feel related. Since this clocks in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, there’s a lot here that could have been condensed to help the story flow.

However, spoiler alert: overall this is a beautiful film that I really enjoyed. The lead, Isabél Zuaa, is incredible as Clara. Though her character is fairly quiet, she is extremely expressive in her loving but painful relationships with Ana and Joel.

The relationship between Clara and Ana, though unlikely, feels genuine. Their bittersweet story is emotional without being manipulative. It’s quite refreshing how little men matter here (we give zero fucks about Ana’s father, fiancé, or baby daddy); we are firmly planted in woman world.

Moral of the story:  I. Am. Here. For. A.  Werewolf. Film.

Life Rants

Advice from the Bard

“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” –William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

May I suggest this thought applies so very well to that noble profession, that (and I quote) “work of heart,” also known as teaching?  Though lacking in the poetic elegance of Shakespeare, I stand by my statement.

With a new job this year, a large percentage of my responsibilities has involved teaching those tenderest of college students who (among other gender identities) are not girls, not yet women:  first years.

And I barely remember being a freshman–not, as you may imagine, because I spent the year on a months-long bender, but because I spent that year (as I spent all of my college years) intensely ignoring my symptoms of social anxiety and depression.

I can remember my poor, poor college instructors who tried so hard to encourage me to participate, recommended me for a job at the writing center, held one-on-one conferences outlining plans for me to speak up in class.  And those who, perhaps simply to move discussion along or out of their own discomfort, called on me in class without knowing the immediate panic I would feel as I strung together an incoherent jumble of words.  It was so much easier for me to write, to take tests, to read chapter after chapter, than to learn to speak in class or make small talk with my peers (which I of course had no idea I was supposed to be learning).

Now this is the kind of thing students can get support for, and I’m sure it was then.  But I wasn’t going to do that most shameful of all step that akin to a confession that I wasn’t really supposed to be there:  ask for help.

For a long time, I thought things would have been different if just one instructor showed some compassion.  They did–but I didn’t recognize it because I needed to show compassion to myself.  I did eventually go to the counseling center, and I learned what a gift it was to enter a space where I always had an attentive listener, where what I said mattered.

Another piece of my college experience that affected me unexpectedly was my campus job, which I still wish I had gotten sooner.  Rejection’s a bitch at any age, isn’t it?

I had always wanted to work in libraries, so it perhaps wasn’t too much of a shock that I loved my job in the library.  Beyond the work that I did and the slightly stern but calm environment of the 7-story building, the job was much more than the shelving or pamphlet binding I did.  It was a place where people were happy to see me, grateful for my help, and always said thank you (if you ever supervise college students, the extreme gratitude for common courtesies will make so much more sense).

Now that my job is at least to some extent being an instructor, I can appreciate how those silences in class can be crushing.  I understand how frustrating it can be when those really smart students with a lot to say refuse to utter a goddamn word (a lot of them women, first-generation college students, of racial minorities).  And I really, really get how making a mistake can be such a great learning experience, though it may not feel like it at the time.

I don’t have words of wisdom for students, and I definitely don’t have advice for teachers.  The only thing I can say is if you’re in college, go to that fucking counseling center.  You have no idea what a beautiful thing it is to be able to take those services for granted until you’re paying $50 or more every time you want to speak to a counselor or how difficult it can be to schedule those sessions when you’re working full-time.

As for teaching…there’s a reason this meme was created.

Featured image by Marco Secchi on Unsplash

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Citizen Ruth, or: Merry Christmas?

Delay in posting means we’re kicking off December with a satirical abortion comedy starring a very ’90s Laura Dern.  Nothing says Christmas like a vicious debate about the undetermined future of a woman’s pregnancy…right, Mary?

The Film:

Citizen Ruth

The Premise:

A young woman, pregnant and with nowhere to turn, unwittingly finds herself in the spotlight as both sides of the abortion debate try to influence the decision about her pregnancy.

The Ramble:

After a fight with her boyfriend and the cold shoulder from her brother, Ruth is SOL with nowhere to go.  Spending her last dollars to get drunk and high on paint fumes, it’s not long before the police are on her case…again.

When she is checked into a hospital, Ruth learns some unwelcome news:  she is pregnant again.  Having already given birth to and lost custody of 4 children, Ruth is charged with criminal endangerment of a fetus.  Quickest way to avoid those charges?  Get an abortion.

Ruth’s plans go awry when a seemingly altruistic group of strangers post her bail–the only time anyone has every posted her bail.  Of course, these good Samaritans have an ulterior motive:  they are pro-lifers determined to convince Ruth of her moral obligation to have the baby.

While experiencing the middle-class lifestyle for the first time, Ruth learns the price for her acceptance into the fold is the birth of a healthy baby…and going cold turkey on the booze and paint fumes.  Though the family presents the decision as Ruth’s to make, they take her to a hospital that shows her a horrendous video about abortion and straight-up lies about the procedure.  The small but devout group’s only source of entertainment(?) seems to be protesting outside of the local abortion clinic.

It doesn’t take long before Ruth feels suffocated and seeks out her old comfort of huffing paint fumes (and, in an extremely relateable move, punches a child).  Shamed by the pro-lifers, Ruth falls in with undercover pro-choice activist, Diane (Swoosie Kurtz).

Lending Ruth’s decision symbolic significance, both sides are determined to sway her to the correct side.  Bringing supporters from all across the country, celebrity figureheads (played by Burt Reynolds and Tippi Hedren!), and even Ruth’s mother into the debate fail to make an impact.  What really catches Ruth’s attention?  When both sides offer her $15,000 to persuade her to their way of thinking.

What will Ruth’s life-changing, earth-shattering decision be?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Ooooh, this one hurts a bit to watch.  It’s quite disheartening how relevant this film is almost 20 years later.  If anything, the abortion debate feels more contentious than ever, and women’s rights just as precarious.

This film highlights the hypocrisy on both sides as the pro-choice and pro-life groups give Ruth’s decision significance it doesn’t need to have.  Ruth never wants to make a statement with her choice–she simply wants to do what is best for her (aka get those sweet pro/anti-abortion $$$).  Neither side gives much consideration to what is actually best for Ruth.

However, it’s difficult not to see the connections between pro-life strategies then and now and note they don’t come off looking particularly great.  In addition to using the manipulative approaches of posting Ruth’s bail and telling her blatantly false medical lies, the characters give off an unnerving Pleasantville vibe, with all of those pasted-on smiles beginning to crack.  Besides, it’s my admittedly biased opinion that at least 75% of the problems in the world can be attributed to the kind of religions zealots who consistently claim to know and correctly interpret the intentions of their god.

As bleak as I’m making this sound, it ultimately is a satire, and one that does succeed in making some darkly funny observations.  It would probably be funnier if an emotionally unstable misogynist hadn’t just been appointed to the Supreme Court.

Would my blog wife choose this one’s side or take the money and run?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shirkers, or: Ladies Before Men Who Are Shady

It’s November, meaning (1) I’ll be eating an excessive amount of turkey and (2) we’ll be doing what we want on the blog.  This week that means getting real via the medium of a documentary about a film about murder.

The Film:

Shirkers

The Premise:

A group of teens in Singapore make a film with their mentor only to suffer crushing disappointment when he and the film reels disappear.

The Ramble:

In 1992, Sandi and her friends Jasmine and Sophie took on the impressive feat of writing, shooting, and starring in a movie.  Sandi wrote the script and starred as a teenaged murderer.  Influenced by the experimental films of ’60s French cinema, the team made a film unlike anything else in Singapore.

Raised by her grandparents with high expectations for her future, Sandi felt more at home with Jasmine’s laid-back, undemanding family.  Bonding over their love of censored films, music, and all things punk, Sandi and Jasmine found a voice through the creation of their own zine.

The lives of Sandi, Jasmine, and Sophie change when they meet Georges, a filmmaker who will become their mentor.  An enigmatic man, Georges lies about his age, date of birth (including day of the month!), birthplace, and–bizarrely–about being the inspiration for James Spader’s character in Sex, Lies, and Videotape.

If Georges doesn’t already scream “major creep” to you at this point, he cranks up the dial by inviting Sandi on a road trip across the United States.  After the trip, Sandi is inspired to write the script for a film called Shirkers.

Determined to make the film and unleash it upon the world, Sandi and Georges drive production forward even when Sophie and Jasmine would prefer to wait.  By her own admission, Sandi is a bit of an asshole during production.  In addition to pouring their hearts into the film, Sandi and Sophie clear out their bank accounts to make it all happen.

At the end of the day, Georges is the one walking away with the film reels.  Sandi and her friends wait eagerly for news of the final product…but only receive a couple of messages from him before he disappears without a trace.

Years pass (23+ in fact) and Sandi feels over what happened with the film.  She has written a novel and gotten married in Vegas.  Sandi has given up all hope of seeing the film reels again when she gets a call from Georges’ wife.  George has passed away, and he’s left behind 70+ reels of film labelled “Shirkers.”

What will Sandi and her friends find on those reels?  And why the eff was Georges such a massive creep?  Answers to at least one of those questions revealed in the documentary.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I love the girls in this, especially as Sandi and Jasmine embrace their weirdness and the spirit of punk.  This girl gang proudly marches to the beat of their own drum.  Sophie wisely points out that the experience created a unique bond among the three girls, who remain close because of the shared triumph and devastation of creating and losing their film.

However, a good chunk of this film is dedicated to the pursuit of understanding Georges and his decisions.  I can appreciate how this process is a strategy for Sandi to find closure…but sometimes when dudes act like assholes, it’s just because they’re fucking assholes.

Would my blog wife embrace this as part of her girl gang or hide it from the light of day?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Don’t Talk to Irene, or: Failure in Drag

As much as I miss Horror Month on the blog, I love months when anything goes.  This explains how we shift gears completely from last week’s dark exploration of human nature to this week’s film about befriending maggots, cheerleading, and Geena Davis.

The Film:

Don’t Talk to Irene

The Premise:

In spite of her mother’s disapproval and bullying from her peers, teenager Irene dreams of being a cheerleader and gains an unexpected squad in the form of a group of retirement home residents.

The Ramble:

The ‘burbs of Toronto:  so close to the city yet so far.  Irene is a relentlessly positive teen living in the ‘burbs, determined to join the cheerleading squad.  So what if she wears plus size clothing, adopts maggots as pets, and holds conversations with the poster of Geena Davis above her bed?

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According to Irene’s mother, there’s a lot wrong with this picture.  Mom (who I don’t think is ever named?), a cheerleader until becoming a teen mom in high school, worries that Irene will be bullied or scorned by her peers.  Too late to worry on that front as Irene is well aware she’s considered a loser but seems to give zero fucks.

On the first day of school, Irene creates a DIY cheerleader outfit to try out for the team.  This doesn’t go unnoticed by new student Tesh, a fabulous dresser and the self-described Switzerland of gender.  They are completely on board with Irene challenging the status quo.

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One person decidedly not on board with this is Sarah, a classmate who decides to humiliate Irene for the hell of it.  Convincing Irene and a few other naive girls that they must lick the shower of the boys’ locker room to make the squad, Sarah films the gross prank and posts it on social media.  Obviously when this goes public, the school principal is not amused and suspends Irene, Sarah, and her boyfriend.  During their time away from school, they will complete mandatory community service at the local retirement home.

Determined to make the best of things, Irene befriends several of the residents:  the sweet but forgetful Millie, curmudgeonly Charles, and suggestive Ruth.  When Irene hears about a reality show contest, she schemes to put together a cheer routine with a squad of her own making:  the residents and staff of the retirement home.  Initially Irene’s pet project, the residents quickly buy into the plan and look forward to learning their new moves.  And of course Sarah is there at every turn to sabotage Irene.

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As Irene faces setbacks, Geena Davis and her new friends teach her to be resilient.  Charles shows Irene how to respond to bullies and to throw a perfect punch.  Tesh, in on the plan too, utters perhaps my favorite line in cinema: “Success is just failure in drag.”

Closer to being part of the contest than ever, Sarah pulls out all the stops to prevent Irene from accomplishing her goals.  With the retirement home manager, Irene’s mother, and a flat tire to contend with, the squad has a lot to overcome.  Does this mark the end of Irene’s dream to defy the odds and become a cheerleader?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Let’s just say there are no shocking twists to this story–it’s a genuine, feel-good film that is precisely what I needed.  Irene is such a sweet character who doesn’t even seem to notice when others try to put her down.  I would really like to borrow some of Irene’s optimism and absolute indifference to horrible douchebags.

Some criticism:  Irene’s mom is a bit disappointing, and her inevitable change of heart feels a bit too little too late.  Though she claims everything she does is to protect Irene, she constantly fat shames her daughter and discourages her for most of the film.  Sarah’s antics get irritating as well; she’s often frustratingly one-dimensional.  I do admit I wish Irene had taken things a step further with some of her choices, but the entire point of her character is about staying positive and not holding onto insecurities.

However, so many of the other characters are so sweet I’d put them in my coffee (if coffee weren’t vile). For once all of the ’80s and ’90s nostalgia here seems authentic instead of hipster ironic.  I love that Geena Davis was part of this film.  And Milli Vanilli helps teach us a valuable lesson about being true to yourself.  What’s not to like?

Did my blog wife cheer this one on or consider it success in drag?  Find out here!